WAKS.WORKS: the Elevated Functionalism of Leticia Wouk Almino and Beom Jun Kim
Leticia Wouk Almino and Beom Jun Kim met at Yale in 2008 — since then they’ve gotten married, started work in different architecture firms, become professors, and most recently started waks.works - a line of ceramics and drawings, with some forays into furniture.
The line blends their shared love of design with each of their talents - Beom Jun is a master model-maker (many of his models are displayed with their ceramics, often under cloches) and Leticia is prolific in her ceramics production and daily drawing practice (which she’s kept up since 2011.)
The couple answered some questions about waks.works, and invited apatodeco into their Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, apartment, where they’ve been storing pieces before they’re sold.
Q: Is there any significance to the name?
A: It’s an acronym of our names: Wouk Almino and Kim. It was either WAK (whack) or KWA (qua). You can guess which one we chose.
Q: As architects, do you find parallels between the skills you’ve learned in school / on the job and the skills needed to make ceramics?
A: Absolutely! While we were in architecture school (we went to the same school but only overlapped one year), we learned a lot about fabrication and worked with many different materials. We both took electives that taught us how to do aluminum casting, welding, woodworking to make chairs, furniture or other conceptual projects. The school also emphasized a lot of digital fabrication techniques such as the use of CNC machines and 3D printers. We developed an interest in combining both new digital technologies and traditional handcrafting techniques to make our ceramics and furniture.
Specifically, we’ve been using 3D printing to explore form and unusual shapes that would be more difficult to achieve on a wheel. The 3D print is used to create a plaster mold, which we then use to slip cast porcelain.
Q: Your process suggests the possibility of multiples. Do you produce these in editions, or are they typically one-off?
A: With the slip casting experiments, we are exploring developing sets, and most recently, a dinnerware set. We would like to make multiples and explore different glazing techniques. So while the forms can be slip cast and are repeatable, the pieces themselves are hand painted, which is much slower and can result in some surprises, so in a way, they are all unique.
Q: Is functionalism important to your work? Have you experimented with sculpture?
A: Regarding the importance of functionalism, we don’t entirely agree, which we think produces a healthy friction in our process that makes our work better as a result. As architects who are trained to solve a problem, functionalism also presents an interesting challenge - i.e. how do you make a pitcher than is comfortable to hold, pours without dribbling, and is also elegantly proportioned? On the other hand, we are interested in formal and geometric explorations that sometimes lend themselves to more abstract investigations with no real function in mind. We often just call these ‘vases’ for lack of a better term.
Q: Where do you go to for inspiration? Are there any ceramicists, designers, or movements that you see your work as a response to?
A: We draw inspiration from many sources, but mostly from art and architecture. We spend a lot of time in museums looking at art, design objects and ceramics. We don’t have any one go-to source of inspiration, but most recently have been looking a lot at Brazilian Concretism (Lygia Pape, Lygia Clark, Helio Oiticica to name a few), and we have a Josef Albers book open on our desk. We think it’s important to constantly be looking, reading and learning as you never know when that one thing you saw might trigger an interesting thought, maybe tomorrow or maybe years from now.
Q: Lately you’ve been experimenting with painted glazes. Is this something we’re likely to see in the shop in the near future?
A: Yes, we hope so! The experiments with underglazes have come out of a desire to combine Letícia’s watercolor practice with ceramics, and to explore painting in three dimensions. Underglaze has a lot of potential as it can be made viscous and ethereal like watercolor, but can also be applied opaque and very saturated, more like a gouache.
Q: This isn’t the first time you two have worked together. What are some other projects you’ve collaborated on?
A: We’ve worked on some architecture competitions together, which was a natural starting point, but soon we discovered a mutual desire to work with our hands on smaller scale projects. We have also designed furniture.
Q: How does this project build on what you’ve done in the past? How is it different?
A: The slip cast dinnerware set builds on our interest in color and form, and is our second experiment with slip casting from 3D printed prototypes.
Q: Leticia – you have a drawing practice as well as ceramics. Do you consider the two related?
A: I have been following a daily drawing practice for over seven years, and over time it has evolved from observations of quotidian life, to travel sketches and most recently, to more abstract geometric explorations. I am interested in shape and color, which are two things we are actively exploring in the ceramics, so yes, I think they are related. They’ve become even more intertwined as I’ve started painting the ceramics with underglaze.
Q: You both have a lot going on – multiple jobs and interests and focuses. How do you manage actually getting it all done? And do you feel like there is unity in your diverse interests?
A: As we both work as architects during the day, we try to carve out pockets of time every week to work on our ceramics. While sometimes it may only be for a few hours on the weekend, over time, we manage to make some progress.
We like to think that these various mediums we work in somehow do speak to each other. Sometimes it happens accidentally and we notice how a thought about a folded table top led to an idea about the curves in a bowl, but other times we’re more explicit about translating ideas from one project to the next, like a watercolor or drawing that is about color and geometry then gets translated into a set of vases.